Pro cycling 2021, and the season opener is…

Come mid-December, every year, that mental light bulb marked ‘Tour Down Under’ flickers into life. I think huh…oh yeah…nearly there. Because the TDU, in January, is the widely recognised start of the new pro cycling season.

Equally, the Tour Down Under is not, to say the least, the greatest of races. Actually it’s dull. It’s several days of Kangaroo pics, footage of blazing sunshine, and stages with individual and convoluted sponsorship deals (from Subaru Stage 3, to Be Safe Be Seen Stage 6), followed by a spine-tingling race up Willunga Hill.

Caleb Ewan wins stages, Richie Porte wins Willunga (except in 2020 when Wigan lad Matt Holmes, powered by pie, did), and we all agree the pro cycling season is underway and also who on earth was that guy wearing that kit because they’re telling me it’s Romain Bardet but those sure as hell don’t look like brown shorts to me!

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The TDU is significant each year because of what it represents – a twelve month conveyer-belt of bike racing unfurling before our eyes – rather than any danger of serious entertainment breaking out. Once it’s no longer there, you see what you’re missing. Because in 2021 there is no Tour Down Under. Neither is there a Herald Sun Tour or a Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race

Because Covid.

In any normal year pro cycling is planned and predictable. The early-season pitter-patter of Aussie racing is part of the fabric. This is its strength and its weakness; the sport has a quirky geographical narrative full of meaning to the committed pro cycling fan, which simultaneously means precisely nothing to the casual observer.

Inclusive?…us?… Pah-ha-ha!

After the scheduling chaos of 2020, and without the time-honoured reset of an Aussie bike race, 2021 is following suit. Routine, structure, and the-way-things-are-done have been cast to the wind. Maybe that’ll be a good thing in the long run. Everything needs a shake-up from time to time.

Meanwhile, we need to get fully on board with the Tour de San Juan (24th – 31st Jan); unless you count the New Zealand Gravel and Tar Classic or Venezuela’s Vuelta al Tachira en Bicicleta I’m calling this Argentinian stage race as the new season opener.

The likes of Fernando Gaviria and Peter Sagan showed up there last year, and the race was won by Remco ‘the new Eddy Merckx’ Evenepoel. Status-wise, it’s a race on the up.

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Of course there are those, usually in northern Europe, often Belgian, who will tell you the season starts at Omloop het Nieuwsblad in late February. Always has, always will. It’s tradition. The opening event in a flurry of grim, cobbled, cowshit-smeared races that culminate a few weeks later with the Tour of Flanders.

In which case nothing has changed. You didn’t care about the Tour Down Under and you have no interest in San Juan. The season will begin on Opening Weekend (Feb 27th) as it always has.

As you were.

Unmoved (though probably, alas, spectator-free) by the presence of a global pandemic.

(Top Image: Brian Townsley, CC BY 2.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

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